Virgil Lewis Johnson (December 29, 1935 – February 24, 2013) was an African American deejay, formerly at radio station KDAV in Lubbock.
Virgil Johnson was the lead singer of the Velvets, a vocal quintet from Odessa, West Texas. They are best remembered for their 1961 hit "Tonight (Could Be The Night)", which peaked at # 26 on the Billboard pop charts. On that song the Velvets can be heard chanting "doo-wop" behind lead singer Johnson, one of the first uses of the phrase in a song. Still, the Velvets were not really a doo-wop group. Their sound was highly polished and the backing usually included strings.
Johnson was born in Cameron, the seat of Milam County in east central Texas. The family relocated to Lubbock, and Johnson graduated there from the historically black Dunbar High School, an institution known for its outstanding academics and reputation within the community. Later he would be principal of his alma mater and obtained a graduate degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He was teaching eighth-grade English at Blackshear Junior High School in Odessa, the seat of Ector County, in 1959, when he recruited four of his students to form a singing group. They were Mark Prince (bass), Clarence Rigsby (tenor), Robert Thursby (first tenor), and William Solomon (baritone).
The quintet began to perform at school sock-hops and campus functions, with Johnson as lead singer. In 1960 they impressed Roy Orbison, who heard them whilst visiting Odessa, and recommended the group to Fred Foster, the owner of Monument Records and the producer of Roy's big hit at that time, "Only the Lonely". Foster signed the group and came up with the name The Velvets. In fact, he decided it should be the Velvets featuring Virgil Johnson because there was another group called the Velvets, years before. They had a song out called "I" on Bobby Robinson's Red Robin label.
In 1960, the singers impressed the native Texan Roy Orbison, who heard them while he was visiting Odessa. Orbison recommended the five to Fred Foster, the owner of Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee, who had produced Orbison's hit "Only the Lonely". Foster originated the name "The Velvets featuring Virgil Johnson" to distinguish the five from an earlier group called simply "The Velvets". The group recorded "That Lucky Old Sun"/"Time And Again" and "Tonight (Could Be The Night)"/"Spring Fever". Orbison wrote the two B-sides, but "Tonight" was the work of Johnson. Their accompaniment came from Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer.
Some of them were quite good, but there were no further chart entries and the group called it a day and went back to a Texas they had never really left. Johnson resumed teaching. He retired from his job as principal of Lubbock's historically black Dunbar High School (1985–1993) and as principal of Dunbar-Struggs Middle School (1968–1984). In 1993, Dunbar became Magnet Junior High School Science Academy. In Lubbock, Johnson was a deejay on Radio KSEL before he switched to KDAV after his retirement from education. Clarence Rigsby, meanwhile, died in a car crash in 1978.
Johnson was inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame in 1997, along with Glenna Goodacre and Dan Blocker. In 1994, Johnson was inducted into the Buddy Holly West Texas Walk of Fame, renamed in 2006 as the West Texas Hall of Fame, located at Seventh Street and Avenue Q in Lubbock.
Over the weekend of March 15, 2008, Johnson and another KDAV deejay, Bud Andrews, were featured on Bob Phillips' Texas Country Reporter syndicated television program. In 2008, he was listed among the "100 Most Influential People" from Lubbock, as part of the city centennial observation.
Virgil died on February 24, 2013 at the Covenant Hospital in Lubbock, TX. He was 77. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia)